Updated: May 23, 2022
So, we know that pets can bring pollen into your home on their coat and paws and play havoc with your allergies, but they can also actually transmit parasites and related diseases to you. Here are some transmittable illnesses and precautions you can take to prevent them.
Diseases your pets can pass on to you.
Zoonotic diseases are diseases that animals can pass to humans.
These are intestinal parasites routinely found in dogs and cats, particularly kittens and puppies. The worms’ eggs or larvae are passed from pets through stool. You can pick up hookworms through your skin from walking barefoot or playing outside.
Hookworm infection can cause painful and itchy skin infections or abdominal symptoms. First, you will experience itchiness and rash which can be caused due to allergic reactions in the area from which the larvae entered. As the hookworms grow in your intestine, you may also get diarrhea. Furthermore, you can also get abdominal pain, nausea, fever, stomach cramps, loss of appetite and blood in the stool.
Reduce the risk of roundworms and hookworms:
Don't walk barefoot or work in garden areas with bare hands.
Always wash your hands and teach children to wash after touching a dog or cat or playing outside.
Have your kittens and puppies dewormed by the vet.
Toxocariasis is a disease caused by the larvae of two types of Toxocara roundworms. Toxocariasis is another disease you can catch from your pets, but it is more commonly found in dogs than cats. It is important to have your pets on heartworm treatments to prevent variations of worms. Roundworm infections may cause no symptoms but can cause nerve or eye damage in some people.
Humans can be infected by inadvertently ingesting Toxocara eggs while working with soil, or more rarely by eating raw or undercooked infected meat. Antiparasitic drugs such as albendazole or mebendazole can treat visceral forms of toxocariasis.
One of the most talked about diseases is Rabies. This a preventable, viral, mammal disease generally transmitted through a bite from a rabid animal. Of all rabies cases reported to the CDC, the vast majority occurred in raccoons, bats, foxes, and other wild animals.
If an animal is bitten or scratched by a wild animal that isn’t available to test, they should be treated as if they have been exposed to the disease. Your animal hospital provides regular rabies vaccines for your pets to protect them from contracting rabies.
Humans are treated with a tetanus shot and the bite wound is cleaned. If no prior rabies vaccine was administered, post-exposure vaccines against rabies are given.
As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) explains, toxoplasmosis infection is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. This is one of many diseases you can catch from your pets, but are usually only found in cats.
Cats may become infected after consuming small animals that are infected. The parasite can then be passed on through the cat’s feces. Humans can also contract the disease from undercooked, contaminated food, or be passed from mother to child during pregnancy.
We can protect ourselves and our cats by keeping them indoors, cleaning litter boxes daily, and not feeding them raw food. Pregnant women should take particular care while cleaning the litter box, or have someone else do this. They should also wear gloves while gardening. Should a pregnant woman become infected, toxoplasmosis is treatable with medication. However, careful monitoring of mother and child during and after pregnancy is recommended.
Humans and animals can both become infected with leptospirosis by contact with infected soil or urine. The bacteria can also enter the body through the skin, especially broken skin. The disease is treatable with antibiotics in both humans and in pets. The earlier it is caught, the more rapidly your pet will recover, so seek veterinary services at an animal hospital promptly.
Leptospirosis spreads through contact with contaminated water and soil. That said, to prevent your pet from acquiring the disease, you must keep your pet from drinking from unknown water sources, as well as rooting around in soil. It’s best to bring your own water and bowl for your dog and prevent them from drinking from communal bowls at parks.
Dogs that are more at risk include those with access to standing water like ponds as well as dogs who hunt, hike, camp, and otherwise spend time outdoors. These pets may benefit from the Leptospirosis four-serovar vaccination. Speak to your family veterinarian about a recommendation of the vaccine.
Leptospirosis is spread through contact with urine from an infected dog. Rodent urine can also be a carrier. Locally, cases have been traced to boarding facilities, dog parks and beaches. It can be transmitted to humans as well. Symptoms include a decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and/or muscle stiffness, severe muscle pain, and depression.
Not swimming and wading in potentially contaminated water greatly reduces your risk of infection. Avoiding contact with potentially infected animals is also advised.
Dogs and cats can pick up tapeworm by eating a flea that has been infected. Most human tapeworm infections arise from ingestion of contaminated meats, but children may pick up tapeworm by accidentally swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae. Tapeworm segments may show up in stool or around the anal area on a pet or human. These segments look a little like grains of rice.
Ringworm is a disease of the skin and scalp caused by fungi, which produces a distinct ring-shaped rash. Animals and humans can contract it by touching infected people or animals, from damp areas, or touching objects that had contact with the fungi.
Ringworm in humans is generally treated with over-the-counter medicine, but some forms require prescription strength antifungal medications.
Caused by bacteria, salmonella infection most often results from eating contaminated food. But pets can spread it, too, by not cleaning one's hands thoroughly after handling their feces. Reptiles such as lizards, snakes, and turtles are likely sources of this infection, as well as chicks and ducklings. Dogs, cats, birds, and horses may also carry it. If you become infected, signs and symptoms may include stomach pain, diarrhea, and fever.
Reduce the risk of salmonella:
Always wash hands with soap and water after contact with animal feces or with reptiles and the surfaces they've touched.
If you have a weak immune system, avoid any contact with reptiles, chicks, and ducklings.
9. Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)
This is a bacterial infection that you can get from breathing in dried feces or respiratory tract fluids from infected birds. This includes parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels. It may be hard to detect this infection in birds because they often don't have symptoms. This makes prevention more difficult.
Reduce the risk of parrot fever:
Avoid purchasing a bird with signs of infection. This includes eye or nasal discharge, diarrhea, or low body weight.
Change papers daily and regularly disinfect the bird's cage, but in a well-ventilated area. Diluted bleach (for example, ½ cup of bleach in a gallon of water) should do the trick. Or, ask your vet for a safe, effective antibacterial to use.
If you suspect your bird may be sick, see a vet right away.
Call your doctor if you develop flu-like or respiratory symptoms after having a sick bird. If you come down with psittacosis, your experience may range from no symptoms at all to severe respiratory symptoms.
10. Lyme Disease
Humans and animals contract Lyme disease from the bite of an infected black-legged tick. If detected early, treatment with antibiotics is effective in most human and pet cases.
Some ways to reduce the risk of Lyme disease
Use tick repellant,
Wear protective clothing when hiking or camping
Perform a tick check on you and your dog when returning from outdoors activities
Quickly remove ticks from yourself and your pets
Treat your pets with monthly flea and tick treatments
By understanding feline and canine diseases and how they can be transmitted to humans, you’ll be much better equipped to protect yourself and your pets.
11. Campylobacter (Food Poisoning)
More than one million people develop a Campylobacter infection in the U.S. each year.
A Campylobacter infection starts after someone eats or drinks something with the bacteria. Uncooked or undercooked food can lead to an infection.
Some common foods that can have Campylobacter are:
Dairy products that have not been pasteurized (sterilized to kill bacteria).
You can also get the bacteria from accidentally touching the waste (poop) of an infected animal. Cats and dogs can both carry Campylobacter. And some people have gotten infected after handling puppies for sale at a pet store. Always make sure you wash your hands after cleaning up after an infected pet or handling unfamiliar animals.
Older people and the very young have the highest infection risk. Also, people with weaker immune systems can more easily get infected. Weakened immune systems can come from cancer treatment, immunodeficient states, being a smoker or drinking large amounts of alcohol.
Giardia results from infection by a commonplace parasite that generally affects humans, cats, and dogs. Pets can catch it by various methods, such as digging in contaminated soil or from drinking contaminated water. If your pet shows symptoms, call your pet hospital for treatment and make sure your veterinarian is aware of any other pets in the house.
The CDC states that the risk of humans contracting the disease is small. Nonetheless, regular washing and disinfecting of any areas that your pet can access, routinely cleaning all surfaces, and frequent hand washing can minimize the risk of you catching this disease.
13. Monkeypox Virus
Monkeypox concerns are making news as it is slowly showing up around the US, so what is it and how do we get it? Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ Monkeypox cases in people have occurred outside of Africa linked to international travel or imported animals, including cases in the United States, as well as Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
The natural reservoir of monkeypox remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). Human-to-human transmission is thought to occur primarily through large respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets generally cannot travel more than a few feet. Animal-to-human transmission may occur by bite or scratch, bush meat preparation, direct contact with body fluids or lesion material, or indirect contact with lesion material, such as through contaminated bedding. The complete range of animal species that can be infected by the monkeypox virus is still not known; other wild and domestic animals may be susceptible.
In humans, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion. The main difference between symptoms of smallpox and monkeypox is that monkeypox causes lymph nodes to swell (lymphadenopathy) while smallpox does not.
Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment for monkeypox virus infection and there have been jus a few recent cases reported in the entire U.S. For purposes of controlling a monkeypox outbreak in the United States, smallpox vaccine, antivirals, and vaccinia immune globulin (VIG) can be used.
14. Cat scratch disease (bartonellosis)
This bacterial disease is spread from cat to cat by fleas, but people usually become infected from a cat scratch or bite. If you develop cat scratch disease, you may develop a mild infection and flu-like symptoms or more serious problems such as damage to the valves in the heart.
Reduce the risk of cat scratch disease:
Put your cat(s) on flea & tick treatments
Do what you can to control fleas on your pets and in your home.
Avoid play that might lead to cat scratches or bites.
Don't allow your cat to lick any open wounds you have.
Wash cat bites and scratches right away with soap and water.
See your doctor if you develop an infection at the site of a cat bite or scratch.
Diseases you can pass on to your pets
Reverse Zoonotics are diseases humans can pass on to animals
Salmonella bacteria can cause illness in both dogs and humans. Infection can lead to symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and vomiting in both species.
Transmission of Salmonella is fecal-oral. You can potentially pass it to your dog if you have salmonellosis and don’t adequately wash your hands after using the bathroom. In this case, touching your dog’s mouth or face may pass the bacteria to them.
MRSA is sometimes called a “superbug” because of its resilience to antibiotics. Infections caused by MRSA are notoriously difficult to treat and have the potential to be fatal.
A study, published in the journal Veterinary Microbiology in 2006, looked at MRSA in pets and its transmission between humans and animals.
The paper mentions a specific case in which a couple was repeatedly infected with MRSA. The re-infections only stopped once their dog was identified as the source and treated. It is presumed that the dog was initially infected by the couple and then passed the infection back to them each time they had been successfully treated.
Yes, Ringworm can go back and forth from human to animals and from animals to humans. Ringworm is a disease of the skin and scalp caused by fungi, which produces a distinct ring-shaped rash. Animals and humans can contract it by touching infected people or animals, from damp areas, or touching objects that had contact with the fungi.
Ringworm in humans is generally treated with over-the-counter medicine, but some forms require prescription strength antifungal medications.
Flu Viruses such as:
4. SARS-CoV-2 (Covid)
COVID-19 is the illness that’s caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In humans, COVID-19 can cause symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While most cases are mild, some can be severe and require hospitalization.
So far, reports have found that a small number of dogs have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. It’s believed that these infections were acquired from close contact with an owner who had contracted the virus.
According to the CDCTrusted Source, an animal that gets the virus may not have any symptoms, or may only have mild symptoms. Currently, the risk of a pet spreading the infection to other people is believed to be low.
Older research Trusted Source has found antibodies to the mumps virus in dogs, indicating that the virus can infect them. However, it doesn’t appear as if they become ill.
Mumps cases have declined by 99 percent Trusted Source in the United States due to vaccination. Because of this, it’s very unlikely that you’d pass it to your dog.
Tuberculosis is a respiratory illness caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In humans, symptoms of an active infection can include coughing, fever, and shortness of breath.
Transmission of tuberculosis from humans to dogs has been reported Trusted Source. In dogs, tuberculosis causes symptoms like cough, weight loss, and vomiting.
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which are large airways in your lungs. A person with bronchitis experiences a wet cough, fatigue, and wheezing.
In people, viral infections like the common cold or the flu most commonly cause bronchitis. However, these human infections don’t cause bronchitis in dogs.
Dogs can still get bronchitis due to an infection even if they didn’t get it from you. Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough, leads to symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and fatigue.
Kennel cough can occur from the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica as well as a variety of canine-specific viruses. Dogs can pass the infection to each other through direct contact as well as aerosols from coughing and sneezing.
Despite how concerning some of these diseases may seem, studies indicate that the risk of getting sick from our pets is not common and in most cases easily avoided. If you take simple precautions such as washing your hands, cleaning household surfaces and keeping your pets current on vaccinations, flea, tick and heartworm preventive treatments, and other veterinary care, the likelihood of contracting something from your pets is very low.
Courtesy of CDC.gov and Southern Arizona Veterinary